MPs urge minister to support 'sea link' alternative to pylons

Sizewell Power Station.

Sizewell Power Station on the Suffolk coast - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

MPs opposed to a new line of electricity pylons stretching from Norwich to the Thames Estuary have met with the government’s energy minister to argue the line should go offshore. 

The six MPs - all Conservatives representing rural East Anglian constituencies - say that an undersea cable option called ‘Sea Link 2’ has been ignored in National Grid’s consultation on the project.

The scheme as currently envisioned would consist of 50m-high pylons running from Dunston, just south of Norwich, to Tilbury in Essex - with the route briefly going underground as it passes through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Suffolk.

National Grid says the scheme, known as East Anglia GREEN, is necessary to transport the increasing amounts of energy being produced by wind turbines off the Norfolk coast.

Dunes and wind turbines at Great Yarmouth.Photo: Andy Darnell

National Grid say the East Anglia GREEN scheme is needed to transport the increasing amount of energy being generated by turbines off Norfolk's coast - Credit: Archant © 2011

The company claims this will help the UK meet its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 - and that the line going offshore would not be "technically feasible or economic".

But the group of MPs, who include among them South Norfolk’s representative Richard Bacon, insist that such an option would be viable - and that it should be considered.

They are pushing for an 'offshore grid', which could see the electricity carried via undersea cabling from Norfolk's turbines to Sizewell in Suffolk. It could then be conveyed southwards via the mooted 'Sea Link 2' cable.

Mr Bacon - along with Central Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter, South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge, Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey, Bury St Edmunds MP Jo Churchill and North Essex MP Sir Bernard Jenkin - met with energy minister Greg Hands on Wednesday.

Minister of state for energy Greg Hands

Energy minister Greg Hands - Credit: UK Parliament

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Mr Bacon said he was grateful for the meeting and that they had arranged to meet again next week. 

“He [Mr Hands] was left in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue and that our constituents are deeply concerned about the significant environmental damage which this proposal would inflict upon South Norfolk and the East Anglia region more widely,” said Mr Bacon.

What is Sea Link 2?

“National Grid’s current approach lacks proper engagement and is a ‘consultation’ in name only - it gives no alternatives to the ‘pre-determined’ pylons - such as the viable undersea cable route known as Sea Link 2,” said Mr Bacon. 

‘Sea Link 1’ - referred to by National Grid simply as ‘Sea Link’ - is currently being developed as a proposal by the company. 

A map illustrating 'Sea Link 1' - simply referred to as 'Sea Link' by the National Grid - which runs from Suffolk to Kent.

A map illustrating 'Sea Link 1' - simply referred to as 'Sea Link' by the National Grid - which runs from Sizewell in Suffolk to Richborough in Kent - Credit: Google

It would link the Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk with the Kentish village of Richborough, from where it can be exported to continental Europe. 

But a 2019 document produced by National Grid also refers to ‘Sea Link 2’ as a second potential undersea link from Suffolk to Kent. It describes the new route, dubbed ‘SCD2’, as “needed for [energy] exports from East Anglia”. 

National Grid’s position is that they have considered offshore options for East Anglia GREEN, and that they would be costlier to energy bill-payers and have less capacity than an overhead route. 

"Flimsy" consultation

But Mr Bacon insisted such options should have been presented to the residents being consulted on the scheme. 

He said: “The basis for National Grid’s ‘consultation’ is so flimsy that it is almost certainly legally flawed.

“It looks very obvious that during this process National Grid has already improperly closed off options.

Richard Bacon, Conservative MP for South Norfolk

South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon - Credit: Richard Townshend Photography

“This means that in the future National Grid will be unable to rely on what they have done now and, crucially, that the Planning Inspectorate cannot lawfully accept National Grid’s application for a development consent order.

“As a bare minimum, the options which have already been improperly foreclosed will need to be revisited and consulted upon with a demonstrably open mind, providing the public with sufficient information to have a fair opportunity to advocate sensible alternatives.

“It is already government policy that we should have an offshore grid. The obvious conclusion is that we should have a sub-sea route for the cabling too.” 

Adhering to planning rules

A National Grid spokesman said the company was “adhering to the planning rules set by the government, including the National Policy Statement (NPS)”.

“The NPS sets the framework for how we develop proposals such as these and states that the government expects that overhead power lines will often be appropriate.

Electricity pylons on the landscape at Wormegay. Picture: Ian Burt

National Grid insist they are adhering to the government's own planning policies, in proposing the new line of overhead pylons - Credit: Archant

“The government is currently reviewing the National Policy Statements. If their guidance towards overhead power lines changes then we would re-examine our proposals.

“In East Anglia, we have been consulting communities for the last eight weeks to introduce the scheme and ask for local peoples’ opinions.

“We are listening carefully to the views of local people and will take their comments into consideration as we develop the proposals in more detail.”

He added: “There will be another opportunity to comment on the proposals before National Grid submits a planning application to the Planning Inspectorate in late 2024, who will hold hearings to examine the proposals and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State.

“The minister will decide on whether development consent should be granted.”